A few weeks ago I wrote about my Christmas wishes as a six-year-old. I longed for a life-sized, walking doll with blond curly hair just like one a friend had. I didn’t get that doll for Christmas that year. I got a smaller, less expensive version from my parents and I was disappointed.
Last week a mysterious package showed up. It was a large green bag with a letter attached. Inside the bag was the doll of my six-year-old dreams! She stands thirty inches tall, has blond curly hair and when you hold her hand she walks along beside you. She wears a lovely lace dress tied with a blue ribbon. She is exactly the doll I wanted when I was a first grader.
The letter was signed “Santa Claus.” “Santa” writes that he read my column and saw how disappointed I was because I had not gotten the doll I wanted. He looked through the “undeliverable presents warehouse” and there found my order in the Christmas list file.
“Right next to your order was an old dusty box. I opened it and there was your doll, waiting for you for the last 52 years. (Santa miscalculated my age by a couple of years.) I do not know if you really still want this doll, and she is kind of out of style now, but if you don’t, I am sure you can find a little girl that might enjoy it. Just tell her it is from Santa…I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.”
The doll is in mint condition and just as lovely as I remembered. She is sitting in a chair next to our Christmas tree, waiting for my granddaughter to come visit.
One of the stories about the origins of the Santa tradition comes from legends about St. Nicholas dating before the tenth century. It was told that he made a practice of giving anonymous gifts to the poor. He was said to have thrown bags of gold down the chimneys of families who had no dowry for their daughters. The money allowed them to marry and move out of their family’s overcrowded, impoverished home. He is said to have saved poor boys from the workhouse and is credited with leaving good things to eat and gifts outside the doors of the destitute. His being astute to the needs of others and giving anonymously without any expectation of thanks or reward for himself earned him sainthood.
Some parts of the St. Nicholas or Santa Claus traditions have changed. His image as a jolly old elf differs from that of a medieval bishop. He seems to have lost his preference for the poor. St. Nicholas didn’t fly around in a sleigh or have short, pointy-eared helpers in curled up shoes. We may have even turned the self-sacrificing example of a saint into a commercial, materialistic, sentimental diversion from the real reasons for Christmas.
Still, Santa gifts are a way to give to others anonymously. It is a way to give a gift based on need or even childish longing. A gift from Santa allows the recipient to accept the gift with dignity and without need for reciprocation. It can still reflect the generosity and caring of the saint who inspired the story.
I can’t say that I have longed for this gift for the last fifty plus years. I probably forgot about her for most of the Christmases since then. My longings have changed as I have grown up and grown older. So, no, Santa, I can’t say that I “want” this doll any more. I am, however, touched by the effort Santa and Mrs. Claus exerted to find this fifty year-old doll, for the money spent to acquire her, for the time spent to clean her up and for the kind and creative letter which accompanied her. I will treasure her.
My doll will remind me of what it means to be really generous, not only with my material things, but with my time, my work and with my imagination.
Thank you, Santa and Mrs. Claus. May you, too, have a very Merry Christmas.
Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains